PRESS STATEMENT: NAJGA Supports Amicable Resolution Of Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Dispute

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden

February 24, 2015 – The North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) calls on the two parties involved in the dispute over the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Bel-Air, California to exhaust all means possible to avoid embroiling a local social and cultural treasure in a legal confrontation.

“As the organization that champions the welfare and future of Japanese gardens in the US and Canada, NAJGA is deeply saddened to see that the final fate of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden — long a haven of tranquility in a busy mega-metropolis — might be decided in the contentious atmosphere of a courtroom,” says NAJGA Executive Director Diana Larowe.

“The continued willingness of UCLA and Ms. Hannah Carter’s children to explore an out-of-court settlement gives us great hope that this matter will be resolved in a manner consistent with the spirit of harmony long been imparted by the garden itself,” she adds.

When the issue came to light in 2012, NAJGA joined the alliance of garden advocates expressing opposition to UCLA’s plan to offer for sale the two-acre property, which houses the more than half-a-century old garden. In a February 2012 letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, the organization expressed particular alarm over the extraction of irreplaceable stone lanterns and other art items by UCLA work crews not properly trained to handle works of art.

Japanese garden scholar and current NAJGA President Dr. Kendall Brown also pointed out that of the 20 public Japanese gardens featured in his 1999 book “Japanese-Style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast,” only the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is slated for sale and possible destruction.

To the contrary, nine of these gardens, including those at the University of British Columbia and California State University-Long Beach, are either being expanded, restored, renovated or master-planned for growth. Brown notes that the formation of NAJGA itself in 2011, with financial support from the Japan Foundation, demonstrates the resurgence of Japanese gardens in public popularity across the US and Canada.

An Important Case for All Heritage Japanese Gardens in North America

Larowe said that the outcome of the dispute over the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden will have repercussions that go beyond the fate of the garden itself.

“There are more than 250 public Japanese gardens in the US and Canada. Many of those dating back several decades are facing circumstances not unlike the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden,” she said. “Aside from being subjected to years of neglect and misplaced judgment, these gardens also face the mounting pressure of urbanization and changing land-use priorities. The Hannah Carter Japanese garden is a test case. Everyone concerned with the fate of heritage Japanese gardens in North America will be watching,” she said.

Since its launch in 2011, NAJGA has promoted awareness of these historical gardens. It also seeks to help them better serve diverse publics who increasingly seek out these spaces for relaxation, education, and creative engagement. The 2014 issue of the NAJGA Journal features stories on a handful of 100-year old Japanese gardens in the US. There are fewer than 20 of these centennial gardens despite the 150-year history of Japanese gardens in North America.

For further inquiries relating to this story, contact Diana Larowe, Executive Director,, (503) 222-1194

PRESS STATEMENT: NAJGA Supports Amicable Resolution Of Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Dispute

David Slawson: Finding Universal Truth in the Landscape

A rare peek at the life of Dr. David A. Slawson, one of America’s premier landscape artists working in the Japanese garden tradition. Narrated by David De Lyser.

David Slawson was the first to truly open up the secret world of the Japanese garden to the Western mind.

But before the man who wrote the “Secret Teaching in the Art of Japanese Gardens” walked among the immortals, he was a little boy of robust spirits / born in suburban Cleveland, Ohio on September 30, 1941 to a loving American midwest family. With his younger brother and friends, the suburban forests near home was their one big playground.

The woods were also a place for the young David to dream. He became attuned early on to magical places in the landscape.

On a voyage of self-discovery as a young man serving with the US Marines, David found Japan and its gardens and never looked back.
He remembers sitting for two hours on the veranda at Ryoan-ji, contemplating the rock garden from different vantage points until their sensory qualities and special character sunk in.

Inspired by those gardens in Japan, David would create his first moss garden and stepping stone path in his parents’ backyard. Even to his then untutored mind, it was dawning on him that here was a way to capture the magical places of his childhood.

Years later, as apprentice to renowned garden master Dr. Kinsaku Nakane in Kyoto, he felt an even more powerful attraction to certain gardens in Japan, gardens that have centuries of applied aesthetic techniques behind them for evoking the essence of landscape.

He was particularly attracted to gardens with “craggy rocks and gnarled trees,” that created a sense of being ancient and remote… infinite worlds compressed into a small space.

It was while observing Nakane orchestrate the placement of rocks and plants to recreate impressions of natural landscape, much as a landscape painter would create such impressions with brush and paper, that David realized the power of the Japanese garden art form to evoke the kind of beauty he was drawn to.

A scholar of East Asian philosophies, David’s deep appreciation of aesthetic values nurtured by Ch’an Buddhism and Taoism also provided a pillar for his apprenticeship.

David’s quest for an even deeper understanding of the art eventually led him to write “Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens.” This seminal work is also a culmination of his personal journey of learning.

After discovering the garden aesthetics of Japan, David went full circle, rediscovering the beauty of his native country in a special way.

His idea of taking inspiration from regional landscape, rather than the gardens he had seen in Japan evolved in the decades after his apprenticeship with Nakane.

He has also shared his knowledge and artistry to Japanese gardening enthusiasts across North America through lectures and workshops.

The Garvan Woodlands Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas, one of his most recent major creations, fully crystallized his vision of using naturally occurring scenery as design inspiration.

His garden creations have truly come to exemplify the true American garden.


The Spirit of the Kyoto Garden Craftsman – Dr. Tomoki Kato

As the 8th-generation head of a garden design company in Kyoto, Dr. Tomoki Kato talks about long-term Japanese garden maintenance and how his team of craftsmen not only build but foster the garden over a long period of time, a process much like raising a child through generations and centuries of daily work. A 2014 NAJGA Conference keynote presentation.


Japanese Garden Space Responding to the Needs of Our Times – Hoichi Kurisu

Japanese garden designer Hoichi Kurisu talks about how the Japanese garden aesthetics and culture relate to the needs of modern society, particularly in the area of health and wellness, in this keynote address during the 2014 North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) Conference held at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


Reflections on the 2014 NAJGA Conference – by GRAHAM HARDMAN, Japanese Garden Society

Graham Hardman of the Japanese Garden Society, NAJGA’s affiliate organization in the United Kingdom, shares his thoughts as a participant of the 2014 Conference in this article originally published in the Autumn 2014 issue of SHAKKEI, the Society’s quarterly newsletter. Mr. Hardman is also the Society’s Honorary Vice-President.

NAJGA affliate signing
Signing of the North American Japanese Garden Association’s affiliation agreement with Japanese Garden Society of UK through Mr. Hardman (left) and Garden Society of Japan, represented by Kazuo Mitsuhashi and Yasuo Takahashi (2nd from right and far right). NAJGA Board Member Tim Gruner and President Dr. Kendall Brown (2nd from left and center) signed in NAJGA’s behalf.

I recently attended the second conference of the North American Japanese Garden Association, which was held at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I was invited to give a lecture, my subject being Japanese Gardens in a Healing Context, in which I referenced and showed images of gardens the JGS has built at Willowbrook Hospice, Hatch Mill Nursing Home and Bury Hospice. I also showed Maureen Busby’s rooftop garden at the Great Ormond Street Hospital which members of JGS look after. Jill Raggett, who attended the first conference two years ago, was also a speaker in Chicago, so JGS was well represented.

NAJGA – The North American Japanese Garden Association was formed a few years ago by Steve Bloom, CEO of the Portland Garden; Jeanette Schelin, Director of the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden in Los Angeles; and Dr Kendall Brown, Professor of Asian Art History in the School of Art at California State University Long Beach. Steve Bloom was the first President of NAJGA, Kendall Brown being the current President. The Association is different from JGS in that its members are representatives of the large public gardens in the US and Canada: people who are garden designers, garden constructors, garden maintenance specialists and also some academics in the field of Japanese arts. Essentially a professional and trade organisation although there are a few members of the general public who have an interest in Japanese gardens. This was their second bi-annual conference, the first being in Denver in 2012.

The NAJGA membership profile reflects the different nature of Japanese gardens in North America when compared with the UK. There are many more public gardens, mostly much bigger than anything we have in the UK (that at the Chicago Botanic Garden covering 17 acres for example), consequently requiring a significant body of experienced professionals to look after them. In addition, new large gardens are being created, with recent ones focussing on healing. Also there are clearly some very significant private gardens that similarly require expert maintenance.

The Conference – The five themes of the conference were: Health and Wellbeing, Design and Maintenance, Garden History, Education and Cultural Programming, and Business in the Garden. The 37 lectures were grouped into these themes, with sometimes four lectures going on at the same time, spread over the three days of the conference.

The conference was set up and run by Diana Larowe, Executive Director of NAJGA and her assistant, Kanako Yanagi. It was organisationally complex and was extremely well run in all aspects. The venue was excellent – Chicago Botanic Garden is huge, well endowed and consequently well cared for. It has a 17 acre Japanese garden with many old and well pruned pines. I suspect all the Japanese gardens in the UK would fit into this space.

Conference Delegates – There were 200 delegates, mostly US citizens including a significant number of Japanese, some Canadians, some Japanese from Japan and two of us from UK (Jill Raggett and myself). Delegates were generally ‘in the trade’ with only a few ordinary folk who just had an interest. As well as NAJGA members described above, there were representatives of large garden companies in Japan and representatives of the Garden Society of Japan, an association of leaders of garden companies, and Dr Makoto Suzuki, Director of the Tokyo Nodai Center for International Japanese Garden Studies. And JGS, of course. Jill Raggett attended as an academic at Writtle College, having also presented at the first conference in Denver two years ago. I attended as a representative of the JGS (though self-funded).

General reaction – Clearly Japanese gardens are a significant source of employment for many people in the US and Canada. There were specialists in building Sukiya-style buildings, ‘aesthetic pruners’, even specialist moss growers. In the UK we are tiny minnows in comparison, with no trade organisation, nor sufficient numbers to warrant forming one. This was a surprise to the US delegates I spoke to.

It was a great opportunity to meet and network with a wide range of people from the delegate group. Meeting the delegates was one of the main reasons for attending – the chance to meet important people and establish relationships with them. In return there was a very strong interest from the garden representatives for us to visit them and several potential speakers were interested in being invited to speak in the UK.

Lectures – The plenary sessions were excellent. The opening one was from Hoichi Kurisu, a highly revered designer of gardens in the US including many ‘healing’ gardens. ‘HK’, as he is known, talked about the increasing need for gardens as more and more people live in cities, predicted to be 80% by mid century. His theme was the need for more ‘ma’ or space in our lives, gardens being a very good source.

On the final day Dr Tomoki Kato, head of the largest garden company in Kyoto, spoke about the role of garden companies in maintaining the important gardens in Kyoto. His company looks after Murin-an amongst others and he explained how they had been undertaking serious long-term pruning work to restore the garden’s ‘Shakkei’ line to what was originally intended. He explained the company philosophy of considering maintenance as ‘fostering’, giving it a different connotation and long-term aspect, with a corresponding change in attitude of the company workers.

A final plenary session was hosted by Portland Japanese Garden, with Steve Bloom, Chief Executive Officer; Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator; and Diane Durston, Curator of Culture, Art and Education at the garden. Steve outlined a plan to set up a Japanese Garden Institute for Japanese Arts and Cultures, based in Portland. This would include an Academy for training in Japanese garden techniques and skills, with certification for successful attendees.

I attended all the sessions on Healing and Wellbeing, learning of several major and very successful projects in the US, mostly designed by Hoichi Kurisu. All these projects were on a huge scale, dwarfing what we have done in the UK. However people were genuinely impressed by what they saw that we had achieved on very small budgets.

Special ceremony – On the final day, I took part in a formal signing of the Accord between JGS and NAJGA. At the same ceremony another Accord was signed between NAJGA and the Garden Society of Japan.

Value to JGS – It was undoubtedly important for JGS to be seen at the conference, as it puts us ‘on the map’ so to speak. The public signing of the Accord signalled our importance. Personal contacts are particularly important and we will be following up on these over the coming year.

There was great interest in Shakkei and our plan to have it available via Pay-Pal (I had taken as many as I could carry, including some of our 20th anniversary edition as well as some copies of the Visions of Paradise booklet). Once Shakkei is available more easily overseas I think that we could expect, maybe initially by invitation, contributions from NAJGA members.

One outcome of the conference is a potential trip for JGS members to gardens on the West coast of Canada and the US. Managers of gardens there were very keen for us to visit and I am sure we would be made most welcome. This will be followed up in the coming months.

Also published in: North American Japanese Garden Association – NAJGA in the News.

Reflections on the 2014 NAJGA Conference – by GRAHAM HARDMAN, Japanese Garden Society